Nelly Shulman
Nelly Shulman

A Learned Woman

The Torah portion for this week opens up with a highly fascinating discussion about the eligibility of males in the issue of canceling or annulling the vows voluntarily taken on by females. First of all, it is worth to mention, that the male vows are final and binding, as Torah says, כְּכׇל־הַיֹּצֵ֥א מִפִּ֖יו יַעֲשֶֽׂה, he must carry out all that has crossed his lips (Numbers 30:3).

Not so with women, as only the widow and the divorcee, as it is mentioned in 30:10, have no authority over them that can annul their vows. The unmarried daughter and the married wife are subjected to male responsibility.

However, here comes the elegant catch. The husband may annul the vows of his wife only on the day he hears them. If he tarries with his decision, then, as Torah says in 30:16, “he shall bear her guilt,” i.e. suffer the repercussions for the broken vow. The woman, on the other hand, is free from any negative consequences.

Ramban here offers an even more intriguing twist. “But if the wife knows that her husband did not annul it in the day he heard it and she is versed in this law, then she is the guilty one.” Here he speaks about the situation where the husband has no idea about the law and the wife has. Since she did not explain to her husband his obligation, she is to bear the guilt.

Sometimes it does not pay to be a learned woman!

About the Author
Nelly Shulman is a journalist and writer currently based in Berlin. She is an author of four popular historical novels in the Russian language. She is working on the fifth novel in this series and on her first English-language novel, a historical thriller set during the Siege of Leningrad. She a Hawthornden Fellow and an alumna of the Nachum Goldmann Fellowship.
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